S'pore govt taking cautious approach to social media

Singapore actively embraces social media via e-services portals but adopts cautious approach to minimize security risks regarding data privacy and protection, notes IT services provider.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

SINGAPORE--While the local government is embracing social media in order to increase its reach and engagement with the public, it is taking the cautious approach to address concerns about data privacy and protection.

Ng See Sing, general manager of NCS Portal City, told ZDNet Asia the Singapore government is continuously embracing social media to improve government-to-people communication and engagement with citizens. Apart from politicians and government agencies that have their own Facebook and Twitter accounts, government e-services portals in the city-state also feature social elements, Ng said in an interview.

NCS Portal City manages government e-services portals and social networks such as NS Connect and One.Motoring. On the One.Motoring site, for instance, motorists can calculate and pay their road tax online and also purchase e-Day license. NCS Portal City is a business unit operated under NCS, a wholly-owned IT services subsidiary of SingTel, that provides services such as portal conceptualization, hosting and management.

Ng noted that while user-generated information and feedback are regularly pumped into these portals, such content is typically contained within the site and cannot be shared or disseminated outside the portal.

He attributed this to the government's paramount concern over data privacy and protection.

Ng said: "Everyone is talking about [data privacy and protection]; it's one of the ills of social networks so we have always been conscientious of this since day one."

Because other external social media such as videos hosted by YouTube are used in government portals, security threats exposing unauthorized or sensitive information cannot be overlooked, he pointed out, noting that a user's information can even be leaked without the individual realizing it.

Ng underscored the need for technology partners managing the portals to be able to monitor and keep up with the volume of social activity.

Social monitoring 24 by 7
To detect undesirable behavior as well as intended or unintended attacks to the social networks, NCS Portal City operates a security monitoring system that runs 24-7, according to Ng. "The moment we are alerted [of an attack], we can apply the patch," he explained.

By combining services provided by public agencies with the functionalities and commercial offerings available in the private sector, he said NCS is able to react quickly to changes in the online world.

A quick response time also improves accountability, Ng pointed out. As a vendor or partner, private-sector third parties bear the responsibility of addressing any issues and are able to do so because they have the technology know-how and capabilities relevant to the industry, he said.

This also adds efficiency to the various self-service features available on Web sites, which in turn improves the interactive engagement between the user and the respective government portal, he explained.

For instance, it helps ensure the portal is robust enough to withstand huge volumes of traffic. Such domain knowledge is also necessary to maintain the site's compatibility with different Web browsers, he added.

Tech vendors will also know which technology platforms should be deployed to achieve maximum returns on investment, said Ng, adding that access to portal e-services are not necessarily limited to the desktop and can also involve other platforms such as mobile.

He pointed to how One.Motoring complements MyTransport.SG, which is a mobile-based channel that provides e-services for consumers on-the-move. The site displays live traffic and public transport information on the user's mobile phone including details about parking rates, ERP (electronic road pricing) gantries and traffic cameras.

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